Another year, another disappointing playoff exit for the Seattle Sounders. This one was the most disappointing at all, since it featured a home loss and a 5-1 aggregate deficit against their bitter rivals, the Portland Timbers. Seattle added a couple of garbage goals to make it 3-2 on Thursday night and 5-3 for the series, but they were never really in it, and now they face an offseason with lots of difficult decisions to be made.
Five questions answered
Before each game in the MLS Cup Playoffs, we ask five questions. Here's how the game answered them.
1. How much is home field worth?
To the Timbers, it seems like it's worth a lot. It's possible that the Timbers are just a lot better than the Sounders and that they would have taken a 3-0 lead on a neutral field, but their crowd was hot and it certainly didn't hurt.
Nope, but he gambled with Shalrie Joseph up top. That turned out to be a pretty lame gamble. Joseph's size wasn't a serious threat to Portland up top, which makes sense because he can't exactly jump like he used to. 6'4" doesn't do Joseph and the Sounders any good when the 6'2" guy marking him has a vertical leap that's a foot better. Rosales came off the bench again, and if he's fit enough to make 30-plus minute substitute appearances, he should probably start desperation games.
3. Can Diego Chara shut down Clint Dempsey again?
If the first leg constituted "shutting down" Dempsey, the answer is yes. He was even less effective in the second leg than he was in the first, touching the ball 23 fewer times, getting one less shot on target and completing 85 percent of his passes, as opposed to 90 percent in the first leg. He also had two fewer passes that led to shots for his teammates in the second leg.
4. Who is fit for Seattle?
DeAndre Yedlin was, and he was arguably Seattle's best player on the night. One has to wonder if this series might have been a bit different with him starting instead of Zach Scott in the first leg. Obafemi Martins was not, and he probably would have been a lot more effective than Joseph.
5. How much does the smaller field matter?
It probably didn't. With Joseph up top, Seattle didn't have a significant speed advantage and probably wouldn't have benefitted from a longer pitch, while its narrowness didn't appear to affect one team more than the other. An extra 10 yards of space probably wouldn't have helped Eddie Johnson enough to change this game.
What we didn't expect
A first half that wasn't competitive: The possession, passing, shot and corner numbers don't suggest that the Timbers laid a beating on Seattle in the first half, but they were well in control and never looked too much like conceding. Seattle didn't wake up and seriously threaten the Timbers' goal until over an hour into the game, and Portland would have scored in the first half without Djimi Traore giving a penalty away for handball. Through a combination of bad team selection, injuries and a pumped up Timbers team, Seattle never appeared to be capable of a comeback.
The big takeaway
Sigi's time has run out: Five years, one conference finals appearance, four conference semifinal exits. Seattle Sounders fans and ownership have expected more of their team for a long time. Five straight playoff appearances and three U.S. Open Cups don't make up for getting regularly outcoached in the playoffs and going down 5-1 to your biggest rival in a playoff series. Sigi Schmid will be lucky to have a job come December.
Man of the Match
Will Johnson: He was the constant link between attack and defense for the Timbers in every way possible. Not only was he great in both transitional phases while covering tons of ground as usual, but his long passing was key in this game. It's rare to see a player bombing up and down the pitch, getting into the right positions when his team loses the ball, going aggressively into tackles without fouling and hitting excellent diagonal passes to switch play. Seattle should have run the middle with Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat and Brad Evans in their narrow diamond, but Johnson outshined all of them.
The Timbers face a very difficult conference final series against Real Salt Lake, who they battled down to the wire for the top seed in the Western Conference. RSL won 4-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium in August, scoring twice after Ben Zemanski was red carded. In their rematch in Portland, they drew 0-0 while Portland was ahead in the standings and was very content with a draw. Meanwhile, Seattle could be in for some serious re-tooling if they make a coaching change, but there's a lot to work with on that roster. No sense in burning down the orchard because you have one bad apple.